IssuesLocal NewsDepartment of Transportation Begins Cleaning Up Austin Homeless Encampments

The move has been a long time coming after several months of the governor and City of Austin officials publicly sparring over Austin's camping and lying ordinance changes.
November 6, 2019
On Monday, crews from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) began cleanup of homeless encampments under highway overpasses. The move was ordered by Governor Greg Abbott last week and notices were posted at encampments to provide those occupying them time to move out.

The crews completed cleaning one campsite on Monday and then seven more on Tuesday.

The agency informed The Texan it has cleaned the large encampments under I-35, US-183, and will finish the ones under SH-71 today.

John Wittman, a spokesman for Governor Greg Abbott’s office, told The Texan, “The effort so far has gone really well. There haven’t been any issues and it’s going very smoothly.”

Wittman then applauded TxDOT, “They’re doing a phenomenal job cleaning up the underpasses, something that desperately needed to be done.”

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Right now, this effort will be a weekly occurrence and Wittman said it may become more frequent should that be deemed necessary.

Other reports have stated that many shelters are full. The Texan can confirm that Front Steps, one of the organizations specifically working in tandem with local and state government on this issue, has reached its maximum capacity in housing for the homeless.

Wittman said the governor’s office is “actively working on a solution to the housing situation.”

Videos showed TxDOT crews cleaning up the campsite under the West Gate Blvd./I-71 overpass on Monday.

In response to the cleanup, Mayor Adler’s office referred The Texan to his October 2 response to Abbott’s initial letter, saying, “I would very much appreciate the state’s assistance.”

Councilmember Paige Ellis took issue with the state’s actions in a press release, saying, “Forcing people from the places they call home, and not into permanent housing, is shuffling displaced citizens and families from one unsafe place to another. I ask that Governor Abbott use his official capacity to increase access to healthcare and affordable housing.”

Homeless individuals who were living in these spots told CBS Austin they would move back in after the crews were done cleaning up.

Additionally, descriptions of rats and needles scattering the ground in these encampments have inundated social media and news reports.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.